Written by William Harms, Art by Mark Bloodworth
Format: 96pg, softcover, partial color, $12.95 (order with code STAR16708)
Category: Adult Drama
Dewey: 741.5 HAR or FIC HAR
Subjects: graphic novels; comics and comic books; action and adventure; friendship-fiction; violence-fiction.
Reviewed by: Kat Kan
It’s the summer of 1944 in Friend, Nebraska, a small farm town. Twelve-year-old John has just witnessed the wanton killing of a neighbor’s dog by his older brother, Philip, who then turns his rifle on John and pulls the trigger (the gun is now empty). By this act, John knows he can never do anything to betray his brother, or he will die. Their family is struggling on their farm, although only their father, Chic, knows how bad things are. WWII is still going on (the radio mentions the battle on the island of Guam), and people in Friend are feeling very patriotic and cautiously optimistic about the war and about the economy. But their patriotism has a nasty racist tinge to it in the townspeople’s dealings with Mr. Mar, the Chinese man who works for old Mr. Harrison. Only John treats the elderly Chinese man with any respect. Then Philip and his gang of teen friends rape and murder the retarded sister of Joe, one of the boys, and they decide to blame the rape and killing on Mr. Mar. What will John do; he knows the old man is innocent (he witnessed everything from hiding, and Philip knows it)?
This little story has layer upon layer of deceit, as almost every character lies about something. The title, harking back to the Biblical story of brothers Cain and Abel, may lead the reader to expect a particular kind of story, but author Harms turns that expectation on its head. The warm sepia tones and mostly quiet art belie the hatred swirling in the minds of so many characters. This is not a pleasant story, but it contains a lot of unpleasant truths about ourselves as Americans and how we have at certain times allowed patriotism or nationalism to justify criminal acts. This is a particularly timely theme, with everything that has happened since September 11, 2001. There is much to think about after reading Abel – about the total helplessness some people feel in the face of bullying from family members, about the lies we tell ourselves and others, about facing racism in our communities. This is a story that needed to be told, that needs to be read and pondered. Older teens and adults should read it; this book definitely belongs in libraries.